Mastodon – metal for readers of The Guardian

Mastodon are one of the most successful metal bands of recent times in many ways. At least critically, they’re endorsed by most of the magazines that cater for the scene, plus they also seem to have the liberal-arts press on their side. And they play venues like Brixton Academy. Yes, they are approved by the types of “music journalists” who write for the Guardian.

As a fan of metal music, I have never enjoyed Mastodon. I have sampled their complex, detailed, progressive heavy ponderings several times and it always leaves me decidedly flaccid. Nope, nothing. If anything, it encourges my penis to shrink like when its really cold. Not that I’m a fan of music generally labelled “prog”, anyway. Mastodon are sort of the stoner-friendly equivalent to those insipid spermicidal music-twat-geeks Dream Theatre.

But now, Mastodon are back with another album. And here it goes again: metal for the middle classes – we don’t care if its enjoyable, as long as we can put it on our shelf amongst the fucking World Music collection and fucking Sting.

STING!
FUCKING STING!

This is metal where complex idea matters over flow; where elaborate time signatures destroy groove; where thoughts are thoughts, always played but never felt; where riffs are lost. Where Soundgarden’s intention to get on mainstream radio sounded good, but not complex enough. Remain in the middle of the road, but let’s just bring in some ideas from Pink Floyd, or some other overblown shit-specked flatulence. Nothing from King Crimson, mind – some of that shit was actually interesting. No, this is progressive where progressive means a genre and not an attitude towards the art in question.

This is conservative prog.

As I write this, I am listening to Mastodon, and FUCKING WHY? THIS IS BOLLOCKS, just bollocks. BOLLOCKS. This is metal as anti-Black Sabbath, metal for people who never understood the sheer joy in the lead riff of Black Sabbath; who think early Metallica is just juvenile; who think Motorhead are good, but could do with more time changes and more melody. This is metal for the anti-metal, made for people who paint their homes beige; who buy wholesale into post-modern academia; who don’t question Michele Foucault; who buys everything on BBC’s the Culture Show; who think Alan Yentob isn’t at all a bit of a pretentious knob; who read the Guardian and aren’t at all embarrassed and depressed by the fact it’s the only major faintly liberal-left voice in the mainstream in Britain, and who think their media journalists aren’t essentially failed wankers ‘cos they write about metal for the fucking Guardian.

Take your prog and shove it.

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Track Review: Metallica ‘Lords of the Summer’

In anticipation of their Glastonbury headline, metal titans (that’s such a music-journalist phrase) Metallica have released another demo version of a song they released last year as a demo (‘garage’) version, which was previously leaked from their live shows.

Anyway, it’s probably the best song they’ve put out in a while. But, having this track in isolation and relatively low-key production (and no fucking stupid overdone mastering) allows us to listen and analyse to elements of the band quite closely. Things to take away from this song:

  • James Hetfield can still write a good riff, but he reverts back to hard rock too easily
  • The chorus is good, though? And some great riffing, generally. It’s a fun number. Hope remains. And their set at Glastonbury may be the first thing of Glastonbury I’ll ever watch.
  • The genius’ of song structure (see the entire of … And Justice For All) reached for, but not grasped.
  • They don’t know how to edit themselves (what’s the silly bit at 4.48 about? Just cut it out and go into the solo!). There’s far too much guff on it. It’s a 4-5, 6 minute song. Tops.
  • Kirk Hammet has forgot how to structure solos, but still makes nice sounds here and there.
  • These Lars Ulrich is a hard rock drummer trying to play heavy metal.
  • They’re trying to move back to thrash, then, but much of their heart seems to be in hard rock. Which is fine, if you want hard rock, but most Metallica fans want thrash, really.

Also, the chorus does make me want to listen to Lord of the Dance:

I DANCED ON THE FRIDAY WHEN THE SKY TURNED BLACK

IT’S HARD TO DANCE WITH THE DEVIL ON YOUR BACK

Write heavier lyrics than that, Hetfield!

Merkabah – Moroloch (2014, Instant Classic)

Merkabah – Morloch (2014, Instant Classic):

http://instantclassic.bandcamp.com/album/moloch

I said I’d write about something new, and fuck it, I’m trying.

I hate to be patronising, but I barely know who this band is (if you can give more detail, it’s welcome) so forgive a brief description – Merkabah are a Polish post-hardcore, post-rock, avant-garde jazz noise band. That is to say, they play mostly noisy guitar-based music with a load of sax skonking meld into the mix. And they do it with aplomb, they do.

Now, I feel like I’m writing this review because even though he’s completely and totally entitled to his opinion, theneedledrop was wrong about this album. I hate to criticise (I don’t really) as he’s an excellent (one of the best, in my honest opinion – a shit load better than my half-arsed attempts that I can’t even bother trying to get published on another website let alone magazine, anymore) reviewer of music. He is tireless, in depth, much more astute than I, and all power to him. But, I’m flirting with academia in my life, so being a bit petty and pedantic is what it’s all about, yeah? Well, some of it.

Dear Mr TheNeedleDrop,

This album is not really ‘doom’ at any point, and I take issue with his inability to ‘find … electricity … between the band as they were playing. Just listening to the band play these songs out felt – I don’t know – uneventful?’

Perhaps the issue is the medium you listened to the band on – as much as I enjoy bandcamp and think it’s a wonderful way to preview bands, I’m not sure its way of compressing music would allow the contours of a well crafted, well produced album, such as this, to truly come out. I listened to it, firsts on Soundcamp, and then since I’ve bought the album and continue to find it a pretty engrossing album. Maybe the medium’s the issue, not the message?

Yours,
FuckIt

PS. You have no idea what punk is. This is upsetting. Watch Don Letts’ documentary on Punk Attitude – yes, it struggles to get and understand what happens after the London scene fades, but it’s an excellent start point.

Having said that, all I can find is the bandcamp stuff so … yeah:

http://instantclassic.bandcamp.com/album/moloch

So, in defence of Moloch.  It’s not all that frequently one finds a melding of heavy music that melds with jazz so fluently. Most of the time, one or the other is a bit too dominating, or a bit too ‘false’ – jazz by people who don’t really get heavy music; heavy music by people who don’t really seem to get jazz. Or the jazz they like is jazz fusion. Or they do it side-by-side of one another, conceiving music simply as genre’s, and never shall the twain meet (sorry, Mr Bungle, but my first few impressions of you were as cliché-genre-ridden crap with a singer who’s too clean).

Here, however, nothing feels out of place – in fact, the musicians seem to be intensely sensitive to both kinds of music and work towards bringing the best out of them when required, and not asserting them when not needed. This means that during the quieter, more meditative moments the sax doesn’t blare out most atonal Zorn impressions just for the fuck of it, but rather helps  in creating atmosphere.

For instance, the use of sax at the beginning of the 12-minute Hilasterion is all about atmosphere, swirling up, building a tension with spacious guitars and tumbling symbols. When the song kicks in, the sax still doesn’t dominate but plays its role as texture amongst the other instruments. It holds back – sensitive to the post-rockness of it all.

And neither are the avant-garde (‘free’ jazz) moments superimposed, but the jazz building on a heavy wall of noise to create firm-footed chaos.

 

Again. This is not domination, this is mixture. All is a vital part of the very meticulously crafted noise this band puts together.

Neither does the ‘rock’ stay in one space. While based arguably in post-hardcore, it flirts with post-rock, and sludge occasionally. The jazz parts veer towards atonal, yes, but it makes sense in the setting – most sax solos do actually seem to be based not around free jazz, but rather set to a backing that hightens the chaos of the Zorn-isms. The music’s tone is generally a very dark-grey (an excellent suit colour), but the size of it is a rather fine cliff: there’s a landscape to this music.

One of the best of 2014 so far. It’s extremely well thought out and the band perform admirably, and have a deep sensitivity to their wall of sound. Probably the best post- album of any type for a while. Maybe the production is a bit too smooth, but it doesn’t detract and make the band seem sterile.

Rating: Well, fuck yeah. Great thing, this: post-hardcore noise jazz stuff.

REevaluating EVILE – ‘Infected Nations’ (2009, Earache)

Some people, apparently, seeEvile - Infected Nations cover music as colour. I’ve never been lucky to have that experience as the overwhelming experience, but I do find some bands, some music, does illicit a feeling of a colour. I hear a colour to the music. A band such as the Polysics makes me think of sickly, luminous, bring, neon colours, the sort of thing that’ll leave you seeing spots behind your eyelids for days on end. There’s no danger of seeing the Polysics as one colour.

Evile’s 2nd album, however, is more … monotone. Much more. This is no to say they never suggested some brilliance, some great riffs, some great solos, but that they never really seem that aware of some of the monotony of the whole of this album, how all these ideas are the bloody same. The first books they ever read (as a band) must have been the 1980s Metallica tab books, and their rather excellent (if musically unimaginative) debut album, Enter the Grave, is testament to that: it’s the best Metallica album since the black album. But, with 2009’s Infected Nation, Evile seemed to be trying to toying towards something a bit more, but not forget to thrash, and perhaps not willing enough to leave comfort-thrash behind.

The outcome is a rather grey-blackish album that doesn’t have any other tones or shades, much change in tempo (or what currently feels like key). There’s 63 minutes of this stuff, and, well … fuck that 63 minutes of your life. It opens with cliché’s, of gothic, clean, picked guitars being torn away by a thrash metal rhythm. And from the point those guitars come in, it’s all a bit the same. Or very much the same, after at least 20 minutes of it.

Maybe it’s the production – it’s a really bland production. Nothing happens in it, no changes of tone, no changes of volume, no colour. The riff style is a growth on the classic Metallica-like hammering, but that’s all these riffs are. There is just no colour to this album. It’s just a metal album, nothing more, nothing less. But, every song seems like all its rules have been taken out of the same text book, and never questioned. And, sadly, this makes the album quite bland.

Rating: Well, yeah, it’s fine, but boring.